Thursday, 28 February 2013


The second month of the year is coming to a close and it's time to make another interim balance.

This time it's rather easy for me to summarise the past 28 days in a single word: GREY!!!!! We've seen much snow and much rain this month, more than we had expected and much more than we would have wished for. According to the weather statistics, winter in Graz hasn't been as unfriendly for 130 years! As a matter of fact, this makes me wonder if those scientists who keep warning us that the Gulf Stream is cooling and that we're heading for a new Ice Age might not be right after all... well, we'll see sooner or later.

For the ancient Romans February was the month of purification - purification before starting into the new cycle of a year with spring. Actually a little bit of purification would do me good right now! My mind is so full with all kinds of things, important and unimportant, that there doesn't seem to be any room left for new ideas to shoot up and grow. For a writer this is not a good state of mind. I'd better sweep out some of the dust that settled on the grey matter of my brains during the course of a long and eventful year.

But how best to go about a spring cleaning of the mind? Faithful Christians will probably recommend me to observe the forty days of fasting until Easter. The Lent season started on Ash Wednesday two weeks ago, but I'm neither a practicing Catholic, nor do I feel a need to change my food habits since I've never been a great eater. I'd have to reduce my meals to virtually nothing at all, if I made up my mind to fast! Others might suggest that I take some exercice. An excellent idea... but I hate sports, I always did.

My preferred method of refreshing my mind is meditation, more precisely zazen. Unfortunately, my tight schedule didn't leave me much time for it as late, or to be truthfully, I just didn't give it priority. I miss this anchor in my life and my pillow is loudly calling me - I'm more than just willing to follow! As a complement I'll resume a bit of yoga because I miss it, too. Yoga? But that's sports, you may argue now. Not for me! For me yoga is meditation in motion and that's just what I need at the moment when spring is around the corner.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Writers and Travelling

When I wrote the short biographies of Hans Christian Andersen and Jules Verne, I noticed that they have something in common: they loved travelling. Until then I had never really thought about it, but it seems to be quite common for a writer to enjoy seeing and being in places other than their home. Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, William Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, José Saramago, Vikram Seth, Bill Bryson, and many others were on the road a lot and quite obviously drew inspiration from their travel.

At one point or another even novelists may come up with a travellogue although in some cases – that I won’t mention here because I have too much respect for everyone who takes the effort to write a book – they should better have refrained from it. Others only benefit from the impressions that people and places leave in their minds. Writers can get inspired by everything and nothing, but travels certainly improve the odds to encounter something so far unknown or unthought of. A change of scenery can make a big difference. It opens minds and can change points of view.

Someone stuck in a writer’s block will be advised to go abroad and see the world. An aspiring writer like me often gets the same advice, but what if it’s out of the question to travel? The career of a writer seldom starts off like a rocket. Most of us have to make sacrifices in order to be able to follow our dream. To make a living we usually are compelled to have jobs that don’t give us the freedom to spend weeks or months on end abroad unless we manage to work there. And even if we can go abroad for a job for a while, the routine of daily life always catches up.

The solution that I found for me, is to travel in my mind – with my nose stuck in a book or with my pen on a sheet of letter-paper. I gain a lot of inspiration from both reading books and writing letters. How about you?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Jules Verne
Jules Verne ca. 1878
Admittedly, I never took the time to read any of Jules Verne’s novels although he is so famous and up to this day the second most translated author of the world (right behind Agatha Christie and before William Shakespeare according to the UNESCO statistics of 2011). The truth is that I’ve never been a big fan of science-fiction and only few adventure stories ever attracted me. The genre just isn’t my cup of tea. And yet, it tempts me sometimes to plunge into the fantastic world of this Frenchman from the nineteenth century who seemed to have seen the future.

Jules Verne was born in Nantes, France, in February 1828. Already as a boy in boarding school he was fascinated by travels and explorations, a passion that already then inspired him to write short stories and poems. When Jules Verne went to university in Paris to study law he also made his first steps as a professional writer, but his father, a lawyer, didn’t approve of his literary ambitions. From this point Jules Verne was forced to stand on his own feet, and yet, he couldn’t but continue writing. He made his living as a stockbrocker although he hated his job, but it allowed him to marry and have a family. Jules Verne's wife encouraged him to get more seriously about writing and to try finding a publisher. At first he received many rejections, even after some of his stories and a novel had come out. Only when the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel recognised Jules Verne’s talent, he could begin his remarkable career in a new genre – science-fiction.

Pierre-Jules Hetzel brought out ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ in 1868. From then on Jules Verne published two or more books of the writer every year. Jules Verne was an amazingly prolific as well as imaginative and far-sighted writer. No less than 54 novels make up the Extraordinary Voyages series including Jules Verne’s best known works ‘A Journey to the Centre of the Earth‘ (1864), ‘From the Earth to the Moon‘ (1865), ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ (1870), and ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1873). They made him famous and rich, but he also wrote short stories, essays, plays, and poems. The outlines of these widely known stories are familiar even to me. It’s improbable that any child can grow up without ever having heard of Phileas Fogg, an English gentleman, and Passepartout, his French valet, rushing around the planet within 80 days in order to win a very expensive bet. A Spanish-Japanese cartoon adaptation from 1983 is among my most vivid childhood memories. 

In 1886 Jules Verne's mentally ill nephew Gaston tried to shoot him with a pistol. The writer wasn't dangerously blessed, but he kept a limp from this assault. Three years later, in 1888, Jules Verne ran for elections in Amiens, France, and became town councelor for fifteen years. Jules Verne died in 1905 at the age of 77 years. His son Michel took care of the publication of several novels that he had left. As was found out later Michel also had revised his father's stories and the original version could be published only in the 1980s.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Rain in the City

Rain on melting snow.
Brown puddles in the gutters
Between lumps of slush.

Cars and trucks splashing water
On passers-by in wet shoes.

© LaGraziana 2013

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Snow in the City

Snow in the city.
Cars crunching over crushed stone
On a slushy street.

© LaGraziana 2013

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Magic of Snail Mail Letters

Many people wonder what makes me enjoy passing my time writing letters like in an old novel. They don't understand why I'm so delighted at using ink and paper instead of a computer, even more so because in general typing is so much neater and quicker. The truth is that for me composing a letter is an important mission and one that is surrounded by a certain magic. A letter is more than just a piece of paper with words written on it. A sealed envelope contains more than a message, it comprises the whole personality of the sender. 

For me writing a letter thus doesn't start with the first stroke of the pen on a sheet of paper. The first step is to choose the right paper for the purpose. Size, colour, design, quality, and finishing all matter. Then I decide about the pen. Sometimes a fountain pen seems more appropriate than an ordinary ball point, sometimes I feel like using ink that isn't blue. If possible I also take care to pick the right envelope and the right stamp. It's important that they match with me and my pen-friend or it might spoil the whole impression... and the magic.

Composing my letters is a ceremony that needs peace and quiet as well as time. Handwriting a letter doesn't forgive being in a hurry. There's no copying and pasting in an old-fashioned letter, so before actually writing it's necessary to make at least a mental draft. I need to know what I want to say, express, explain. Writing a letter also allows, even requires me to slow down which made it one of my favourite ways to practice zen. Answering to the letter of a friend makes me forget the whole world around me for a while. There are only the two of us left.

And when I finish my letter, it's a magic link between me and my pen-friend.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Book Review: Fräulein Else by Arthur Schnitzler
When I wrote a haiku about the nature of reality on Sunday, I didn’t imaging that it would turn to be the motto of the whole week. It just happened. Now I want to conclude the theme with the review of a novella that these days might not be very well known outside Austria: Fräulein Else by Arthur Schnitzler.

Arthur Schnitzler was born in Vienna, Austria, in May 1862. Stemming from a prominent family of medical doctors he became a doctor himself and worked first at the Vienna General Hospital and at the General Policlinic where he focused on hypnosis and suggestions. Already during his medical studies, Arthur Schnitzler began his career as a writer that later on became his main occupation. As from 1880 he published poems, prose sketches and aphorisms. In 1888 his play, The Adventure of His Life, appeared in print, three years before it was first performed on stage. Arthur Schnitzler’s fame, however, is based on psychologically well founded plays like Anatol, Flirtation and Reigen that shocked the audience of the time with an until then unknown frankness about sexuality. The antiquated conventions of society in the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy are a topic in all of Arthur Schnitzler’s work, also in his prose like for instance in the novellas None but the Brave, Dream Story or Fräulein Else. As a writer Arthur Schnitzler was a renegade obsessed with love and death as he said himself. He was one of the great innovators of Austrian literature and during his life encountered much praise as well as open malice for it. Arthur Schnitzler died in Vienna in October 1931. 

Fräulein Else, a first-person stream of consciousness narrative like None but the Brave, was first published in 1924 and received immediate public acclaim. The plot is simple. It’s 3 September 1896. The adolescent woman Else is staying in a hotel in San Martino di Castrozza in Southern Tyrol, a fashionable summer holiday resort in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, today in Italy, with her well-to-do aunt and cousin. In the afternoon she receives a telegram from her mother informing her that her father, a lawyer and gambler, needs 30,000 guldens in order to return embezzled money and to avoid prison as well as humiliation. Since there is no other hope for the family, Else is asked to approach the rich art dealer Dorsday, a family acquaintance, present at the hotel and to make him lend her father the necessary money. The young woman follows her mother’s wishes, but Mr. Dorsday requires something in return that Else is reluctant to give: he wants her to take off her clothes and pose naked in front of him that night. The request plunges the young and inexperienced Else into a deep inner tumult. She considers all possibilities that are left to her, acquiescence, rebellion, even suicide. When a second telegram arrives from her mother in the evening telling her that the amount needed is 50,000 guldens, the young woman takes her decision. She goes down to the lobby with nothing but her fur coat on and takes it off in front of all hotel guests including Mr. Dorsday, so everybody will think that she suffered a nervous breakdown. To soothe her nerves she had taken a dose of veronal, a strong sedative and hypnotic very common at the time, or more than just one dose that shows effect when Else regains her hotel room and her bed where the story and Else’s stream of consciousness end. 

The story of Fräulein Else is disturbing since it reveals the view of the world of a well-bred, sheltered and probably spoilt girl somewhere on the threshold between childhood and respectable womanhood. The character of Else is very complex and so are her thoughts and daydreams that are mingled with childish fantasies and the dawning of her still innocent sexuality. Arthur Schnitzler made Else tell her story with great mastery of language and with incredible sensitiveness. Reading the novella I often couldn’t help wondering how a man managed to know so much about a woman’s or rather a girl’s inner world. For its psychological depth Fräulein Else is often considered the best of the best among Arthur Schnitzler’s prose. The fact that there are certain parallels to a case described by Sigmund Freud (whom Schnitzler knew) in his Studies on Hysteria can’t derogate the quality of the novella. 

I enjoyed reading this novella very much although it’s set in a world of yesterday, a world before the two great wars of the twentieth century and long before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Despite all it feels very modern. In any case, it’s a masterpiece of Austrian literature and it deserves being read more often than it is today.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen
painted by Constantin Hansen
This week the nature of reality engaged me a lot and served me as inspiration for the blog posts that I wrote. Today I’m going to leave the firm grounds of reality and concentrate more on imagination, the source and motive power of all creative work. But I don’t want to numb your minds philosophising again. Much rather I’ll give you an example of what can be achieved with imagination. Who would be a better example for a person spinning new worlds in his mind than someone who spent much of his life writing fairy tales? So I decided to dedicate this post to the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen who keeps being popular not only with millions of children worldwide, but also with adults.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in April 1805 in Odense, Denmark. His father being a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman, he could only attend the local school for poor children. When his father died in 1816, he was forced to work as an apprentice to a weaver and later to a tailor to support himself, but his plans for his future were a lot higher-flying: he was determined to become famous. At the age of 14 Hans Christian Andersen went to Copenhagen to try his luck as a singer, dancer and actor at the theatre. For three years he sang in a boys’ choir. Then his voice changed, but Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal Theatre, noticed the young man’s poetic talent and procured a scholarship for grammar school and a private tutor to allow him to complete his education. In 1828 Hans Christian Andersen passed the entrance exam to the University of Copenhagen.

In the 1820s Hans Christian Andersen began writing stories. His first published short story appeared in 1829 and was received with some acclaim. During the following years he wrote poems, plays, travelogues, novels and an autobiography titled The Improvisatore that was published in 1839 and quite successful internationally. Hans Christian Andersen’s first collection of Fairy Tales Told for Children (later: New Fairy Tales and Stories) came out in the years 1835, 1836 and 1837 and contained nineteen stories, among them The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, and The Emperor's New Clothes. Their success was poor. In 1838 another volume of fairy tales was published, but Hans Christian Andersen’s breakthrough didn’t come before 1845 when his stories for children were finally translated into English. He continued writing until 1872 and thus produced the incredible number of 168 fairy tales along with several books for adults that are little known today. Hans Christian Andersen died from liver cancer in August 1875.

Most of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are much loved by children, but they were written for adults as well. Their world is full of magic and at the same time it uses to be tragic and gruesome. The author incorporated much of his own history, traumatic experiences and disappointments in his stories although his life proper is often referred to as a fairy tale. As a matter of fact, Hans Christian Anderson (together with Charles Dickens whom he knew) was one of the grand figures of social criticism of his time. Among his most famous stories apart from those already mentioned above count The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen and Thumbelina.

For more information please visit The Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark:

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Dreams and Reality

by LaGraziana

You wonder what dreams are?
For me? For you?
They are castles in the air worth ten a penny.
They are lives without limits or dangers.
They are a reality apart filling our heads.

You wonder what dreams mean?
For you? For me?
They mean everything and nothing at all.
They mean countless alternatives to what is.
They mean a reality that could be different.

You wonder what dreams bring?
For me? For you?
They bring the stars down from heavens.
They bring hope for changing the world.
They bring a reality apart from the usual.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Being Austrian it may be presumptuous of me to post a text about Dreamtime on my blog. After all I’ll have to write about the mythology and religious belief of the first human beings that set foot on the Australian continent ten thousands of years ago and whose descendants keep living there, some proudly holding on to their traditions or even reviving them, others adjusted to the Anglo-American lifestyle. Moreover I’ve never been to Australia and never got a chance to exchange ideas with someone belonging to her Aboriginal peoples.

So how can I possibly know what I’m writing about? Well, I’ll have to rely on my memory of information that I heard about the Dreamtime somewhere some time (which fits well into the oral tradition) and on the internet that allows us to travel fast and without effort almost everywhere at any time – like in a dream.

There’s much more behind the Dreamtime than the word itself expresses. It really comprises the spiritual, natural and ethical system of the Aboriginal universe that has been handed down from one generation to the next through a number of stories told in the form of song, music, dance and pictures. The Aboriginal Dreamtime myths explain the creation of the world and the origin of life, thus the beginning of time and of knowledge. There is the Sacred World of Dreamtime and there are a physical and a human world, all of them interconnected through dreams. The Dreamtime was, is and will be forever. For a European it's difficult to understand and impossible to summarise in a few words, but for the Aboriginal peoples it's part of their daily lives and not just their heritage. It's a pity that in our part of the world so little is known about the Dreamtime myths, but there are books full of them for those who are open-minded and interested. I picked out one that seems to be quite good.

For first-hand information on Dreamtime be so kind as to visit the website of the
Aboriginal Australia Art & Culture Centre in Alice Springs, Australia:

Monday, 18 February 2013


Day for day every living creature has to face reality in order to survive. We have to deal and interact with the world surrounding us, with the world perceived through our senses. But the senses only deliver the raw data that our minds then process and assess. Without being aware of it, our minds filter out the greater part of information to avoid being overwhelmed with futilities. Our minds also interpret what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste, so that what we perceive fits into our logic, into our view of life. There’s no need, nor room for conscious thought in all this.

The individual mind is complex. Not one seems to be like the other. So how can the reality of one mind be the same reality as that of another mind? Isn’t it impossible unless there exists something that could be called the absolute, the ultimate or the objective reality that would be the same for everybody? The problem is that there is no way that allows us ever to find out because our individual minds are always involved. Without a mind there’s no perception, just biochemical and electrical activity of organic tissue. A computer doesn’t perceive, it processes data and that’s it.

My conclusion is that the last reality is completely out of our reach, outside our sphere. Without perception we might still be there, but we wouldn’t know. If there’s no mind, there can be no consciousness of a self existing in a given frame of space and time. As a child I wondered if sleep didn’t just transfer me into another life that was mine too although in a world following different rules. My dreams during the night were no less real to me than my life during the day. Some dreams still feel very real, while I find some real events hard to believe. So what if all life were just a dream?

Many great philosophers asked the same question ever again during the past millennia and tried to answer it with scientific logic and accuracy. To me it isn’t important if this life is a dream or not. It isn’t important to know if we exist in an absolute reality or just in an imagined one. We see, hear, feel, smell and taste. We act and react. We love and hate. In a nutshell: we are living our lives. The reality of our minds, filtered and adapted according to previous experience and sociological background, is all we have for sure. The individual realination must suffice for a lifetime.

Sunday, 17 February 2013


World of holograms.
Three-dimensional cosmos
Full of life and soul.

 © LaGraziana 2013

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Coming and Going of Snail Mail Friends

As an avid snail mailer I have to deal with the fact that not all pen-friendships last forever. There’s a countless number of reasons why even long-standing contacts break off sometimes. Essentially it’s because people and conditions change. Often it’s just for a permanent lack of time on the one side or the other. Occasionally it’s for more serious reasons like illness, exhaustion or the necessity of cutting costs. Sometimes the initial enthusiasm has waned and the snail mail friends drifted too much apart. In that case it’s likely that expectations have been too great from the beginning.

I’ve been lucky to find many very loyal snail mail friends, and yet, it happens every once in a while that someone bids me farewell. It’s always sad. Despite all I accept the step and try to understand it. In the end you can’t force anybody to be your friend for a whole life and to keep on writing letters, can you? When I lose a pen-friend, I rarely go out looking for a new one. You can replace soulless objects, but it doesn’t work with the living and breathing… at least not for me. If I browse the internet for one or two new snail mail friends, I do it because I feel that it’s time.

To my experience the best way to choose a new pen-friend is to be picky at first and then to let go all expectations. Some people are sending out heaps of empty messages to potential snail mail partners expecting to be received with open arms. Of course, they are disappointed by the meagre response. As for me, I often don’t even reply to those ‘Hi, I’m Jane Doe. Will you be my snail mail friend?’ requests. The other extreme are those who bombard you with very precise demands like ‘Would you please answer this questionnaire first to see if we match’. I reject those, too.

My strategy is to thoroughly read the online profiles of people looking for snail mail friends on (my favourite site). In general, this gives me an idea of the person behind the lines and it allows me to see if we have enough in common to make a fruitful snail mail exchange somewhat probable. For the rest, I let my intuition guide me since it proved reliable in the past. Everything else remains to be seen with an open mind. Expectations would only ruin the surprise and they could rob me of the pleasure of getting to know someone who is completely different from other people I know.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Book Review: Three Horses by Erri de Luca
For today’s review I picked a rather hidden gem from my crammed shelves: Three Horses by the Italian author Erri de Luca. I doubt that rummaging about in my usual shops for a new read I’d ever have stumbled across this book. To find its way into my hands it needed a good friend who was well acquainted with contemporary Italian literature and who wished to surprise me with a novel that I didn’t know already. From the first page to the last the story captured me, but let me tell you a little bit about its author before plunging into the plot.

Erri de Luca, Erri being the italianised version of Harry, was born in Napels, Italy, in 1950, joined a left-wing movement when he was a blue-collar worker at the FIAT factory in Turin and later wandered about working as a mason and a truck driver. He has been writing ever since the age of 20. His first novel, however, didn’t come out before 1989. Several of his books were bestsellers in Italy and well received also in other countries, notably in Europe. Like many Italian writers Erri the Luca writes for newspapers regularly. In 1999 Three Horses was first released on the Italian market. For the French edition of his book Erri de Luca received the Laure Bataillon Award in 2002. Michael F. Moore’s English translation appeared in 2005.

The plot of Three Horses is quickly told. The unnamed narrator, a reclusive middle-aged gardener with a love for used books, sits in a tavern somewhere in Southern Italy where he meets Laila, a young and enigmatic prostitute who reminds him of his late wife. The encounter triggers a whole series of flashbacks to the time when the narrator had been living in Argentina ruled by the terror regime of Jorge Videla and his successors. As the story evolves and the acquaintance between him and Laila grows into a love affair, Laila and the reader learn about the tragic fate of the narrator and his Argentinian wife Dvora who tried to escape from Videla's myrmidons into the moutains. Eventually, Dvora is captured and most likely tortured to death or executed like so many at the time. The narrator continues his flight through Argentina and finally manages to cross over to the Falkland Islands from where he goes to Italy. His second life as a gardener at the back of beyond begins. The narrator's only human contacts are the owner of the tavern, Laila and an African day labouror who one day appears at the gates of the garden and asks for the thrown away flowers and herbs so he can sell them and make a living. The illigal alien and the narrator become friends and Laila decides to give up working as a prostitute because she can't bear any longer being touched by men who don't love her. She confesses to the narrator that she intends to kill her pimp to free herself, but the story takes a different turn that I won't give away here. You'll have to find out yourself!

The entire novel is written in the present tense with the effect that present, past and future become blurred just like it happens in our minds every day which might have been Erri de Luca's objective all along. At any rate, this stylistic peculiarity brands Three Horses as an experimental novel that might not be to everybody's taste. In addition, the writer's language is very rich in metaphors and more overt comparisons to nature and to a garden in particular. Even the title of the book alludes to nature since it refers to an old saying about the life-span of men: "In three years a hedge, three hedges a dog, three dogs a horse, three horses a man." To a realist the style that the author chose for his novel can feel slightly ludicrous at times, but the plot is logic and thought out well. All in all the book is easy to read and to understand.

It goes without saying that I enjoyed reading Three Horses by Erri de Luca very much because otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to write this review. It's a nice piece of contemporary Italian literature, a little gem that definitely deserves being noticed by a greater public and that I'm grateful to have been given as a present.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day

by LaGraziana

Grey clouds in the sky.
White flakes drifting in the air.
Puddles in the street.

A hyacinth bulb
With a green shoot in a pot.
Life reappearing!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Value of Best-Selling Lists

Whenever I come by a book shop, I have a look at the titles displayed as being on top of current best-selling lists. Usually, it doesn't take me long to see that none of the books is likely to tempt me. Far too often they are just the usual kind of novels filled to the brim with sex or crime or both. Mind you, I use to find them terribly predictable and boring! In general title and cover already suffice to repel me. Most of the time I leave the place disappointed not just by the books, but also by people. How can anyone read such rubbish without being forced to? And why do publishers love it while excellent novels never even make it into the shops?

Of course, there are exceptions. Every once in a while I stumble across a bestseller that is really good. For instance, I bought 'Night Train to Lisbon' by the Swiss author Pascal Mercier when it was listed second or third. It's a wonderful and philosophical novel dealing with the authoritarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal between 1933 and 1968 as well as with the protagonist's search of his own self. Some time I might write a review about it, not now, though, because first I need to brush up on my Portuguese and re-read my original German edition without translations of the many and sometimes long Portuguese passages.

Usually the fact that a book is on a best-selling list is a good reason for me NOT to buy it. I prefer to wait and to let time sweep away the fleeting stars of the book market. If a bestseller is still being sold in the shops after some years, it's a sign for me that it might have certain qualities distinguishing it positively from other well promoted titles. As long as the book isn't shelved among chick lit or thrillers the odds aren't too bad that I'll find it worthwhile reading, but it's no guarantee. Sometimes those novels have the potential to move up to all time classics with the years, sometimes they take just a little longer to disappear from the market.

However, I'd never buy a book without having read the cover text and a few random lines in it! A review is a good indicator, too, although I rarely find one that I'd still support after having read the novel. A good reason to write my own reviews, isn't it? Each book of the 'Shades of Grey' trilogy miserably failed already in my very first check. Okay, you may argue now that E. L. James' novels haven't yet been on the market for long and you're right. Let's see if in ten years they will still be remembered... I'm quite sure that their titles will be banished from my mind pretty soon in favour of more important information and I don't deplore it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Snow Again!

Past week I thought that spring was just around the corner although the temperatures didn't really support my hopes. However, in my neighbourhood, in front of an individual house, I saw the very first light yellow tips of wild primroses peeping out in the middle of frost-bitten lawn and the discovery made me optimistic. I should have known better! It's only February... thus high winter in this part of the Earth. The Alpine World Ski Championships that are being held in Schladming at the moment prove it. Okay, the ski resort is in the mountains and it's about 140 km from Graz, but winter doesn't care about such unimportant details.

Last night it snowed again. Heavily. The whole town is once more under a white cover. Well, on the streets and pavements the snow that the warmer temperatures during the day haven't transformed into dirty puddles is now beige or even dark grey. Car wheels and shoe soles have that effect. It looks really disgusting in much frequented areas that haven't been cleaned from the snow. In addition it's slippery on streets and pavements despite the heaps of crushed stone and road salt scattered everywhere around. Such is winter in a town like Graz where about 300,000 people have their homes and where even more people come every day for work. Winter wonderlands only exist in the countryside and in gardens.

And yet, we have been lucky so far. The forecast had spoken of heavy snowfalls during the whole night and most of the day, but in Graz they stopped some time before noon. I don't really know when because I have been at work and I don't have the habit of passing my time staring out of the office window. My boss will be happy to know that! At any rate, instead of half a metre of snow there are only estimated ten centimetres of the cold white splendour that annoys me so. The bad news are that more snowfalls are expected in the coming days. Well, I can't help it and it's no reason at all to lose hope, either.

After all, soon it'll be March... and then, spring will really come!

Monday, 11 February 2013


What is time? I won't venture to answer this question. Scores of philosophers and physicists have been meditating, researching and writing about time and haven't come to a unanimous conclusion. We can measure time, that's true. The movement of the earth indicates roughly the fixed points of our time scale: years, seasons, days. In the end, time depends a lot on our personal points of view, though. Perception of time is individual and contextual.

Time is creeping, time is running, time is flying. It can be described with many different verbs, but they have one quality in common: they are verbs of movement. In fact, time is always heading forward, never standing still although there can be moments that feel as if it were and others when we would wish it to. We also can't turn back time however much we would welcome it on certain occasions. Time travels keep being the realm of science fiction... and of nostalgists.

Some of us actually manage to live in the past. It's the memory of certain events that chains them. Recollections of happier days or of endured hardships keep spinning round and round in their minds without end. Past, present and future merge into one despite calendars and clocks. The remembered facts may long be past, but the emotions linked to them are a result of the moment. Nostalgists mentally relive their experiences to the point that they forget about their bodily existence in the present.

Others are living in the future. Their minds get absorbed in often elaborate ideas of what their life will be like. Making plans for themselves and for others is their favourite occupation. We all know such people. They always talk about what they will be doing some time... and never do. They always talk about what will be some time... and never is. It's as if they get lost in their dreams and can't see the realities or the requirements of their present lives.

Most of us, however, are living in the here and now. At least most of the time. We do what needs to be done. If we pass our days with full attention to the moment, we can even experience something that is called the flow. All of us know the feeling that time has lost its power over us. Past, present and future don't just merge, they cease to exist, but we can see it only in retrospect when we realise that we passed hours on end with something that absorbed us.

Isn't it nice to look at the clock and to be amazed at how much time we passed with something or someone that we adore? Life can be wonderful!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Sunday Trilogy

by LaGraziana

A night without stars.
Light reflections in the clouds,
A city in white.

Sun from a white sky.
The sound of melting water
From the roof gutters.

A flock of crows
In a bare tree top at dusk.
Black and white garden.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Letter for You

Dear reader,

how are you? I hope that you're in good health and in a good mood. Both are almost as important for the reader as they are for the writer because they have a share in whether you’re in the right or in the wrong frame of mind for a conversation. If you don't feel well, it might influence your opinion on the letter you just received or on the person who took the effort to put pen to paper to join you in words. Being swamped with work waiting to be done or being absorbed in the cycle of your daily worries can be just as harmful because you won’t be able to appreciate or even enjoy the letter. You’d better give me and my likes your full attention. So please take your time, empty your mind… and then read this. 

Don’t get me wrong. Writing snail mail letters isn't about sharing only good news and pleasant feelings with someone who is living far away. If you ask me, a good pen-friendship actually has a lot in common with a marriage. It means sharing your life in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Of course, someone who never wrote postal letters will find it hard to believe how close you can feel to a person who you might not even have met face to face. Despite all I can assure you that a good pen-friend can help you through hard times with nothing but words of understanding and support or sometimes even without words when there’s nothing to be done except being there for the other. I speak from experience!

The fact that snail mail correspondence isn’t an immediate means of communication even is an advantage. In an e-mail or in a facebook post you often write down anything that crosses your mind at the very moment, even if it’s something that you wouldn’t think of anymore a short while later. When you handwrite a letter, you do it with more care. You decide whether an information or comment deserves being recorded or if it would just bore your pen-friend because taken out of its time context it’s of no importance nor interest. Maybe that’s just another reason why postal correspondence is looked at with something like disdain today. You can’t just kill your time with it, but you need to put a lot of thought into your choice of topics and words. 

At this, dear reader, I leave you and allow you some time to think. I hope that you had a good time in my company. 

With kind regards,
Edith LaGraziana

Friday, 8 February 2013

Book Review: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
One of my all-time favourite reads is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl - a true story or rather an account of the hell of the holocaust. Unlike many others it was written down shortly after the author's liberation from the concentration camp Kaufering (an affiliate camp of Dachau) in April 1945. I first read what the psychiatrist Viktor Emil Frankl experienced as a prisoner and slave laborer just before the new millennium, at a time when I was in a crisis and searching for meaning myself. I seldom reread books, but this one I read three or four times because its message is so encouraging and so inspiring.

Viktor Emil Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria, in March 1905. He studied medicine at the University of Vienna and later specialized in neurology and psychiatry with a focus on depression and suicide. He worked as a neurologist and psychiatrist in Vienna until 1938, when Austria was annected by Nazi Germany and Jewish doctors were no longer allowed to treat Aryan patients. Between 1940 and his deportation to the Nazi Ghetto Theresienstadt in September 1942, Viktor Frankl was director of the neurological department of the Rothschild Hospital. In Theresienstadt he worked as a general practitioner until October 1944, when he was first deported to Auschwitz together with his wife and then sent to Kaufering. There he worked as a slave laborer for five months, before going to the rest-camp Türkheim where he was allowed to resume work as a doctor and where he was then liberated by US troops. After the war Viktor E. Frankl continued his work as a neurologist and psychiatrist and gained worldwide renown as the founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, thus the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. From 1946 to 1971 he was head of the Vienna Polyclinic of Neurology. As from 1955 he was professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna and visiting professor at several other renowned universities, notably in the USA. Viktor E. Frankl died in 1997 aged 92. He published 39 books that were translated into many languages.

Viktor E. Frankl wrote Man's Search for Meaning within the short period of nine days in autumn 1945, few months after his liberation from Türkheim. The book first came out in 1946 in a small publishing house in Vienna that printed and sold no more than 3,000 copies of the book. The original German title was Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager (English translation: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp). Years later, when the memory of the concentration camps had already started to fade, the main title put in front of the original one became ...trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen (English translation: ...To Say Yes to Life Despite All). The first English edition of the book was published only in 1959 under the title From Death-Camp to Existentialism that was later changed to Man's Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy.

The story of Viktor E. Frankl's time - and suffering - in the concentration camp is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist. As he would have done in a research paper, he analysed the situation and identified three psychological stages that every inmate of the concentration camps went through and that Frankl could discern on the basis of obersation of his fellow camp inmates as well as of his own experience. In the initial phase of admission to the camp every inmate was in a state of shock regarding the conditions there and the probable fate of himself as well as of his family and friends. As soon as the prisoners had become used to their miserable existence in the camp, apathy followed and all they still cared about was survival. At this point Viktor E. Frankl noticed that all those who could still find sense in life - through religion or in Frankl's case the day dream of giving a public lecture about his experiences in the concentration camp after liberation -, were more likely to live than the others. The suffering in the concentration camps made him see clearer than ever before that every moment of life was full of meaning that could be found and that it was the attitude of the individual that made the difference. The third psychological stage of the inmates was to be seen only after liberation. Many holocaust survivours were disillusioned, bitter and morally deformed because they couldn't see any meaning in their sufferings. That's where logotherapy came into play.

An impressing and striking conclusion that Viktor E. Frankl drew from his experience in the concentration camps was that there were only two races of men, decent men and indecent. In Man's Search for Meaning he refers to "decent" Nazi guards that he knew and "indecent" prisoners, most notably the kapo who would torture and abuse fellow prisoners for personal gain. Thus he, unlike other holocoust survivours, always refused to blame Austrians, Germans or Nazis on the whole for the suffering he had gone through and for the loss of most of his family and many friends.

The language of Viktor E. Frankl may sound a bit antiquated today, especially in the original German version, but the message keeps being important, consoling and encouraging. Besides, we can't be reminded too often of the horrors that Adolf Hitler and his terror regime brought over Europe, not just over the Jews, but over all people who were different in some way.  Man's Search for Meaning is a book that I highly recommend to everyone, no matter if you see a meaning in your life or if you don't. The book is worthwhile the time.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Vienna Opera Ball

Ash Wednesday is once again around the corner which means that Carnival is soon coming to a close and so is the ball season, at least here in Austria. Tonight, as always on Thursday preceding Shrove Tuesday, the most festive and most famous Austrian ball is held at the Vienna State Opera. The auditorium is transformed into a large ballroom where aproximately 5000 guests will come together. As always young ladies in long white gowns and young gentlemen in tuxedos with tail and white ties, the debutantes, will open the ball to the tunes of Carl Michael Ziehrer's Fächerpolonaise.

The Vienna Opera Ball has a long history. Its roots date back to the eighteenth century before today's opera house had even been built. The whole event reminds of the days when Vienna was still the mondane capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The black-yellow age of the Habsburg Empire, or more precisely of Emperor Franz Joseph and Sisi, is past as Joseph Roth lamented so brilliantly in Radetzky March (1932) and in The Emperor's Tomb (1938), but the Austian ball culture has survived. So has the very strict dress code: only floor-length ball gowns and tuxedos with tail are accepted at the Vienna Opera Ball which gives the event a fairy-tale like air.

The original opera house was designed by the architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll and opened in 1869. Only some years later ball festivites were allowed at the then Royal and Imperial Court Opera, a tradition that was resumed shortly after World War I and the collapse of the monarchy. The first Vienna Opera Ball as we know it today was held in 1935 and suspended during the years of World War II. The already then famous opera house was severely damaged in the last bombings of 1945, only two months before Austria surrendered and the war ended. The auditorium and the stage were completely destroyed by flames and it took almost ten years to rebuild them similar to the original. In 1955 the Vienna State Opera was reopened and in 1956 the first Vienna Opera Ball was held after Austria's rebirth.

The Vienna Opera Ball has become an internationally renowned event that every year attracts celebreties from around the globe. Politicians, aristocrats, industrialists, businessmen, actors, journalists, artists,... and wonnabes come together at the ball. The Austrian Public Broadcast ORF transmitts the ball live and millions of people follow the polonaise and the interviews with famous guests worldwide. Many Austrians dream of attending the Vienna Opera Ball at least once in their lives although it's a tremendously expensive pleasure. The mere entrance ticket costs 250 Euros per person while the best boxes are available at 18,500 Euros.

As for me, I could hardly care less about this ball! I'm no fan of big events like this - too crowded, too loud, too meaningless. I prefer taking my time for something useful like writing this blog.

For last year's opening of the Vienna Opera Ball please follow the link to youtube: